K240 (Second Review)


Title           K240 (Second Review)
Category        Management sim
Developer	Gremlin (1994)
Players         1
Compatibility   1MB required
Submission      Joona Palaste (palaste@cc.helsinki.fi) Profiled Reviewer

Review
K240 is the sequel to Gremlin Graphics' famous space colony management
game, Utopia. Seeing how brilliant Utopia was, it seemed that things could
only get better. But did they? Let's have a look.

  Straight out of the box, K240 feels altogether different from Utopia.
Utopia was an idealistic colony creation and management game, a sort of
"SimCity in space". The game felt like you were responsible for the whole
colonisation. K240, however, casts you in not so much as the role of a
colony leader, but more of an officer of the Terran Empire responsible for
deep-space mining. Utopia's message was "find out if you can create
Utopia". K240's message seems to be "get lots of ore".

  How does K240 feel when you actually play it? The first thing you notice
about a game is, of course, the box. K240's box art is quite good, but
obviously inferior to that of Utopia. Utopia had a wonderfully drawn
colony battle scene on the box, K240 has... the game's name. That's it.
Not one picture actually representing anything. Seeing as a pre-production
version of the box had a nice asteroid scene on the box, you can't help
but wonder why Gremlin decided to scrap it in favour of this disappointing
design.

  Inside the box you find a thick, detailed manual and three disks. The
disks are AmigaDOS-compatible, which is a nice plus, since now you can
install the game on your hard drive without resorting to tricks like
WHDLoad. The game is started by double-clicking on its icon (or typing
"K240" in the CLI, if you prefer a textual interface to the OS, like me).

  As the game begins, it becomes apparent that Gremlin tried to replicate
the overall structure of Utopia as closely as possible, but change all the
details to something completely different. The very first thing that
appears on your screen is the intro sequence. Consisting of a group of
pictures with a bit of animation thrown in, it tells the story of an
asteroid clean-out mission going horribly wrong. Neither the pictures or
the accompanying text are particularly interesting, and the whole intro
sequence seems to have little bearing on the game itself. Sacrificing some
of the graphical detail in favour of the story, as in Utopia, would have
been preferable.

  After the intro sequence, you get a scenario selection screen, just like
in Utopia. There are only six scenarios, compared to the ten (or twenty,
if you have the data disk) of Utopia. Since the scenarios aren't quite
that different from each other anyway, this is not a big fault. Selecting
a scenario and starting it is very easy, and the game begins almost
instantaneously.

  Here in the game proper, the biggest difference to Utopia becomes
apparent. While both games display the landscape in 3D isometric format,
Utopia is limited to a single planet per scenario - you could fly your
ships in the planet's atmosphere, but there was no interplanetary flight.
The enemy city was hidden outside the map, never appearing in the game
except in the spy reports. K240, however, abandons the concept of a static
planetary map and instead presents you with a group of asteroids, each of
which is much smaller than the planet map in Utopia. One of these
asteroids initially belongs to you, one or more to the enemy, and the
others are uninhabited.

  Each of the asteroids contains various amounts of ten types of ore,
divided into three groups, red, orange and green. The ores vary in
frequency and price. Red ores are the most common and the cheapest - green
ores are found on very few asteroids, and cost a fortune. The ores can
either be used for construction of buildings, spaceships and missiles, or
they can be sold to the Terran Empire, which is the main purpose of the
game.

  The game begins with a close-up view of your first asteroid. You have a
transporter ship orbiting the asteroid, and a colony support unit
providing vital functions for the first pioneers in the colony. From here,
you begin expanding your colony by first constructing more buildings on
this asteroid, then building spaceships and colonising other asteroids.

  Although the game is graphically quite pleasing, the most disappointing
thing in its presentation is the total lack of any background music. Music
is not generally the most important thing in strategy games or management
simulations, but I find that the absence of background music destroys the
"feel" of being in charge of a space colony. The addition of music would
be the first thing I would do to make K240 better, if I was given the job.

  K240 has a similar button interface as Utopia, but instead of a static
group of purple buttons, you get a hierarchy of red buttons. There are
many more buttons here than in Utopia, so not all of them can be visible
at once. Clicking the right mouse button opens a small pop-up window
containing the main menu buttons. Clicking on these takes you to a submenu
with more buttons. Almost all of the buttons can be "extracted" to the
main screen by holding down the left mouse button on them for a couple of
seconds. This is a very nice touch, as it allows you to customise the
layout of the buttons on screen. Unfortunately, not nearly all of the
buttons fit on the screen at the same time. I found myself having the
exact same layout in every scenario I played, perhaps this was a remnant
of my experience with Utopia.

  Because the asteroids are so much smaller than the planet map in Utopia,
it doesn't take you long to completely fill up your first asteroid with
buildings. So it's time to find another asteroid and colonise it. This is
done by building a scout ship, and sending it to uncharted space on an
exploration mission. If the ship finds a new asteroid, you can send a
transporter ship there and instruct it to build a new colony. Every once
in a while, the Imperial transporter appears in orbit of the asteroid with
the most ore, offering to load some of your ore onboard to sell to the
Terran Empire.

  While Utopia seemed to focus on buildings, K240 seems to shift the focus
more on the spaceships. There are now two overall classes of spaceships -
small ships that can land in underground hangars, and larger ships that
stay constantly in orbit. The larger ships are further divided into two
subclasses, the smaller of which fly around the asteroid like the smaller
spaceships, while the larger sit motionless in orbit until told to do
something. This difference, though, is purely visual and does not affect
the game.

  The smaller ships can be built from a ship construction yard just like
in Utopia, but to construct larger ships you need an Orbital Space Dock,
which is built by the Command centre. This should be done quite early in
the game, as you can feel very helpless without the larger spaceships. The
ships also don't differ just by their class any more - each ship has a
number of hardpoints (from one in the scout ships and assault craft to six
in the fleet battleships), each of which can hold a laser-type weapon, a
bomb, a shield generator or a special device such as a stasis field
inducer. This improves the ship construction aspect of the game further.

  In Utopia, your technology progressed through research, and given enough
research grants, your scientists came up with new improvements. In K240,
the improvements are already there - you just have to build them. A
company called SCI-TEK sells blueprints for different technology
improvements, which can be ordered on-line and delivered by the Imperial
transport. This gives you more freedom in choosing the improvements, but
destroys the feel of scientific progress, after all they aren't exactly
inventions if they're already there when you begin the game.

  The game would be quite boring if all there was to do was colonise
asteroids and mine ore - but things heat up when you come into contact
with the alien race. They are intent on destroying your colonies and
spaceships and stealing your ore, so you must retaliate. The most obvious
improvement in combat over that of Utopia is that now you can actually see
the alien cities on their asteroids, attack them and if victorious, claim
them for yourself. This makes the combat action seem closer than it was in
Utopia, and also more offensive compared to defensive. As in Utopia, the
ships attack automatically on sight of the enemy, but you can also launch
a variety of missiles towards the enemy asteroids. These vary from simple
explosives to more deadly versions, such as the Nuclear missile (my
favourite) which destroys all life on the asteroid, or the massive Mega
missile which obliterates the entire asteroid!

  The first alien races are quite easy to beat, and when you do, you find
that the game ends there. You get a congratulatory message from the Terran
Empire, saying that you can now continue to mine ore in harmony in the
asteroids. But you're not given the option to actually do this - instead
it's back to the main menu. This is a great disappointment in my opinion -
instead of "build a new colony on an alien planet" like in Utopia, K240's
task is just "kill all the aliens".

  In conclusion, K240 is a valiant effort to continue Utopia's success and
improve on it - but it fails in its attempt. The more restrictive approach
to the game, the fewer scenarios and the absence of background music make
it a more boring game than Utopia, good in itself, but not as excellent as
its predecessor. If you are a fan of Utopia, you might do well to give
this a try, but it's by no means excellent.



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